New Orleans Travel: Falling in Love with Two Sides

New Orleans Travel: Falling in Love with Two Sides

Sometimes cities can leave lasting impressions in your memories. For me, that city is New Orleans. In late 2010, my family and I spent a day in New Orleans as part of a cross country road trip. It was a whirlwind visit, as we tried to squeeze in as much as we could in one day. We had plans to see the highlights of New Orleans and sample the city’s cuisine: the French Quarter, Bourbon Street, beignets, crawfish, and the Garden District. I came to the city ready to taste what it had to offer, but what I ultimately experienced in New Orleans was something more meaningful than just a good meal.

The atmosphere on Bourbon Street was lively. Musicians were busking on the sidewalks, and the businesses were packed with tourists sampling local food and crafts.

New Orleans is well-known for its food. From gumbo to jambalaya, seafood to sweets, the city serves up tasty dishes with a southern flair and a Cajun twist. The city’s French roots, mixed with Spanish, Creole, Italian, African, and Native American influences, combine to create a cuisine that is unique, yet easily recognizable. My husband and I had heard about the city’s famous beignets, square shaped pastries topped with powdered sugar and affectionately known as “French doughnuts.” Our first stop in the city was Café Beignet on Bourbon Street to sample these delicacies.

The beignets were delicious. The dough was the right mixture of crispy and chewy, and the powdered sugar made a sweet albeit messy accent to its slightly savory flavor. We devoured the pastries in seconds, and then headed out into the street to explore. The atmosphere on Bourbon Street was lively. Musicians were busking on the sidewalks, and the businesses were packed with tourists sampling local food and crafts. For lunch, we decided to try some of Louisiana’s famous seafood. We were told Big Fisherman on Magazine Street was the best place for fresh crawfish, so off we went in our car, seeking seafood to fill our bellies.

New Orleans Travel: Falling in Love with Two Sides
Bourbon Street; photo by Astrid Vinje

New Orleans Travel: Falling in Love with Two Sides 

Driving to the fish market, we passed through several of the city’s neighborhoods and districts. I was struck by how run down parts of New Orleans looked to me. It had been five years since Hurricane Katrina. Classified as a Category 5 hurricane, the storm devastated more than 80% of the city, and resulted in the deaths of over 1,500 New Orleans residents. Tens of thousands of people had to be rescued from their homes. In the Gulf Coast region, the total number of displaced people was estimated at over 1 million.

At the time of our visit, the population of New Orleans was only 75% of what it had been before the storm. This displacement was evident in many of the neighborhoods we drove through. As we made our way through the city streets, we passed by abandoned strip malls and empty buildings dilapidated from disuse. Sitting in the car watching the scenery pass by, my heart began to feel heavy, thinking about the people whose lives were uprooted by the storm.

In travel, it’s easy to love a city for its beauty and glamour. It’s not so easy, however, to love a city for its grittiness.

After buying our crawfish at Big Fisherman, we looked for a quiet place to enjoy our lunch. We stumbled upon a park across from the Convention Center called the Mississippi River Heritage Park. It had an open space and benches where we could eat. This was the perfect location for our impromptu picnic. In the center of the park was a large sculpture that resembled a tree with a house on it. I was intrigued by the sculpture, and after eating my lunch, went over to get a closer look. The placard next to it informed me this was an art installation by the artist Sally Heller entitled, “Scrap House.” It was created in memory of the people who were affected by Hurricane Katrina, for the homes and lives that were uprooted and left hanging in the wake of this storm. I had never experienced such devastation in my own personal life, but looking at this beautiful yet haunting sculpture, I felt as if I could almost understand what that must have felt like.

New Orleans Travel: Falling in Love with Two Sides 

Falling in Love With New Orleans: Lasting Impressions
“Scrap House” by Sally Heller; photo by Astrid Vinje

New Orleans Travel: Falling in Love with Two Sides 

I thought about the buildings and the homes that we passed as we drove through the city. For many, New Orleans is known for its Mardi Gras revelries, its food, and its thriving music scene. But there is also a tragic side to the city. Poverty exists in many parts of New Orleans. A large portion of its former residents have yet to return, having lost their homes in the storm. Despite New Orleans’ fame, the city still has not fully recovered from the economic impacts of Hurricane Katrina. The damage that storm did to the city’s oil, fishing, and tourism industry is enormous. Yet the city persevered. Despite a slow recovery, it never lost pride in itself. Tourism now brings in over 7 million visitors a year, and Louisiana is now the second largest producer of seafood in the country.

In travel, it’s easy to love a city for its beauty and glamour. It’s not so easy, however, to love a city for its grittiness. But I like to think that cities are like people. We love people for all their sides, for their accomplishments and talents, as well as their faults and short-comings. In that short visit to New Orleans, I fell in love with the city. After experiencing such loss, it still managed to pick itself back up and open its doors to the world. New Orleans may have many obstacles it needs to overcome, but like the people we love in our lives, we can look past those obstacles and see the strength underneath.

 

New Orleans Travel: Falling in Love with Two Sides 

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About Astrid Vinje

Astrid VinjeAstrid Vinje has traveled to 29 countries in her lifetime, and writes about her experiences at The Wandering Daughter. By day, she works for a global health organization based in Seattle, WA. When she’s not working, writing, or traveling, Astrid spends her time exploring Seattle with her husband and kids.

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